Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, crime rates have risen in West Campus despite the reduced student population.
Auto thefts, thefts and burglaries have all risen since the beginning of the pandemic. Although a large portion of students returned home in the spring semester after the University shut down this year, more crimes occured between March 1 and Aug. 28 in 2020 than the same period in 2019, according to data obtained by The Daily Texan through a public information request.
Auto thefts rose from 43 to 127, thefts from 397 to 435 and burglary from 43 to 59, according to the data. Tara Long, an Austin Police Department public information specialist, said in an email that the increased thefts and burglaries do not indicate a particularly significant change, but the pandemic’s economic impact may have influenced the increase in crimes.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint a precise reason,” Long said. “Crime generally increases as incomes and opportunity to earn wages decline.”
APD sergeant Chris Vetrano said auto thefts occur when a vehicle is stolen, whereas vehicle burglaries occur when items are stolen from within the vehicle. He said the pandemic is a major contributor to the significant rise in auto thefts this year.
“When you have individuals that no longer have a way to have an income other than illicit or illegal activity, that’s what they’re going to bank on,” Vetrano said.
Vetrano said the pandemic gives criminals increased accessibility to vehicles.
“The fact that people are holed up in their homes and they’re not going out, they’re not checking on their vehicles as much because they don’t have to drive them … (so) they’re becoming easier targets,” Vetrano said.
When Jacqueline Knox, a Plan II and journalism sophomore, returned to her car in early August after several days without using it, she said shattered glass littered the concrete floor near her vehicle. She said CDs, tampons, mascara and napkins were strewn across her car.
“What was really scary to me was there were two dusty shoe prints on the seat,” Knox said. “Seeing actual boot prints was just scary because it was very much an invasion of privacy.”
Knox said someone stole her sister’s wallet, which held no money, and a pack of disposable masks. She said she now feels wary every time she approaches her car.
“Every time I go to my car, I always approach with caution,” Knox said. “It could have been so much worse. I could have walked up on someone breaking into my car, and that could have ended very differently.”
This semester, the increase in auto thefts has been even more significant than recent years, Vetrano said.
Last year, mathematics senior Hannah Faubion unlocked her car to find a thief had ransacked it. She lost everything from a mixtape her best friend from high school created for her to sunglasses.
Faubion said she learned from the last theft and doesn’t leave anything in her soft-top Jeep. She always locks her car, but it was slashed open again in early October this year.
“This is the second year I’ve gotten broken into, and I pay for my parking,” Faubion said. “The fact that I’m paying this crazy amount of money to park in a fancy-schmancy parking garage and I’m still having this happen to me is annoying.”
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove the incorrect assertion that auto thefts rose roughly 34%. The Daily Texan regrets this error.